Zambian farmers’ wish list for 2012 – RAIN!

A couple weeks into this New Year, Zambian farmers have one main wish: rain. The rainy season normally starts beginning of November lasting to end March/beginning April. It’s the main planting season for all farmers without irrigation, with planting starting middle of November to Christmas. Main crops are corn and soybeans.

Like all Zambian farmers, Vivienne is praying for a good rain, especially to grow the staple crop of corn.

“It has been a very dry start to the season,” writes Rassie du Toit, a large commercial farmer in the Mkushi farming block. “Crops look good in general but a big concern is the low rainfall.” Du Toit irrigates much of his land, so can mitigate the lack of rain somewhat. But he is concerned that rivers and dams fill enough to be able to irrigate the winter crop (mostly wheat), planted in April/May. You can’t irrigate without water. And there’s no water whatsoever in the dry season.

Rassie du Toit will be able to irrigate most of his rainy season crops to get full combines again, but he's worried the water reservoirs won't refill for the next crop.

Jessy Mpuplwa from Mpongwe too writes the rains have not been so good. He’s discouraged enough to begin to consider a business besides farming. Jessy is already big enough to manage somehow, but for most small scale farmers a lack of rain is devastating. A small crop or no crop means small food or no food. Many will be looking for jobs somewhere to try to feed their families.

The last few years in Mpongwe, where Jessy Mpupulwa farms, have been pretty good. But he's worried about this year's crop.

Besides water, Murray Sanderson of Kitwe writes: “Farmers who grow cotton, tobacco, flowers or vegetables for export, and who are fortunate enough to have irrigation, are concerned about the exchange rate, which right now is moving favourably for them. Cattle farmers share the same concern, if they export.” What moves favourably now, can change very quickly.

Murray Sanderson's workers load crates of tomatoes for market. Vegetables need a lot of water to grow, and reservoirs need to be full to irrigate.

To end this wish list series, I’m going to print Vivienne Mutale’s wish list in its entirety. Vivienne is a small scale farmer who also has a full time job as a private secretary. She spends weekends and holidays on the farm, which provides food and an income supplement for her family and is a two hour walk from the road in the rainy season.

“My wish for my farm next year would be:
1. I should be able to grow enough cash crops to be able to sell and make money.
2. I should have transport to carry the whole lot of my produce.
3. There should be a ready market to buy my produce
4. The climate should be favourable – we seem to be experiencing a great change in our weather pattern. The rain pattern is not as it should be – less rainfall than expected, although there is a possibility of heavier rains at the end of the season which may damage the crops as they get ready for harvest.
5. If I could also have farming implements such as ox-drawn ploughs; or animal power.
6. I should build a better structure for shelters for such animals as cows; pigs; goats and chickens.
7. I should be able to construct some fish ponds.

Well this is a big wish for a small farmer like Vivienne”

Vivienne, we hope that your wishes can be granted in their entirety! And for all you Zambian farmers, we wish you the right amount of good soaking rains, to fill those rivers and dams and grow the crops, and that stop when it is time.

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